Fotograf Magazine

Libuše Jarcovjáková – Book of Life

The publication The Black Years by Libuše Jarcovjáková (b: 1952) crosses boundaries – and not only in one direction. In this case, we are interested in those of a genre nature, or, more precisely, those to do with classification: Is The Black Years a photography book? Or is it more a work of visual text? We tend to believe it is more of the latter. It is difficult to imagine that the texts – excerpts from the artist’s diaries from the 1970s and 1980s – could successfully stand on their own, but likewise the photographs contained in this unique publication – with respect to both number and their fragmented presentation – could hardly be presented without any text. It would simply not be an understandable story.

Curator Anna Fárová did include Jarcovjáková in two collective exhibitions in the 1980s, both of which subsequently entered the annals of Czech photography history (specifically the 9 × 9 exhibition in Plasy u Plzně, and the 37 Photographers Na Chmelnici exhibition in Prague), however, in the case of this artist there was a certain, albeit fruitful, deception: when, in Plasy, Jarcovjáková exhibited photos of laborers in the printing shop where she herself worked, it may have created the impression that her works are a part of a documentary angle. However, these shots were “merely” a part of her relentless effort to visually and textually document her own life path, which she herself long considered to be only blundering through life, without any order, system, or purpose. Jarcovjáková is not a documentarist, she is “merely” a visual and textual chronicler of her world, her perceptions – her ambition is not to observe a certain environment or a selected phenomenon and present a report about it.

With The Black Years, publisher and text editor Barbora Baronová, together with photography theorist and, in this case, image editor Lucia L. Fišerová – of course, in collaboration with the protagonist – gave this spontaneously collected enormous mass of life a certain order. The book provides evidence that it is not categories that are important (nor their purity), that the photographs making up a large part of this work do not have to be visually appealing or of high quality – it need be said that they are good, but in a different sense than meeting the expectations of correct image composition and the appropriate handling of the technical aspects of photos. The Black Years prove that life itself stands over technique and aesthetic standards – its energy and the courage to fully testify about one’s own life. It may seem like it is an easy road to take. But how many people with a camera are there who contend with their dependence on alcohol or sex addiction? And how many books are there which are as powerful as The Black Years?


Josef Chuchma



Jarcovjáková, Libuše. Černé roky / The Black Years: 1971–1987. Prague: Wo-men, 2016. Print.